Bishops urge caution as schools plan to reopen

A student reads a book at State House Primary School in Nairobi in October.
John Okoyo/PA

Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy in Kenya have jointly urged caution as the country’s schools prepares to open fully early next year.

Although the schools have remained partially open, bulk of the learners have stayed at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the government announced that a full openning will start on Jan. 4, 2021.

But the leaders have feared that many of the institutions were not ready for the opening and could expose the children to the virus. The concerns came as the spiking Kenyan COVID-19 cases went past the 90,000 mark.

“It is worth noting that public schools were already crowded before the pandemic struck and this is expected to worsen following the closure of many private schools,” said Catholic Bishop John Obala Owaa in the leaders’ statement he co-signed with Rev. Chris Kinyanjui, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) general secretary. “Further, parents are likely to struggle to raise school fees in the view of the devastating effects of the pandemic.”

He spoke at the end of the National Christian Conference which was organised by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and the NCCK. At the event, the leaders offered churches facilities for use as classrooms to help achieve social distancing.

“We recommend that the government ensures that adequate safety measures are in place, and NHIF is ready for all costs of treatment for any learner who may get infected,” said Owaa, adding that alongside this, psychosocial support should be put in place during the resumption of learning.

The meeting had also tackled other issues including the COVID-19 pandemic which, according to the leaders, had torn apart families, devastated the health sector, and stressed health facilities.

On the controversial referendum for a constitutional amendment, the leader said it was too early for them to say “yes” or “no” to the process. 

The proposed amendment is a result of a process known as Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which started as a handshake between President and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

“Instead we remain committed to consensus building in the referendum so that it promotes unity and peace in the nation, not division and competition,” said Owaa.

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